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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Uptown Report, and a decision.

Well, after two days at the Uptown Village Market, I have come home with one commission (yay), a small amount of cash, but all the art dolls I took with me other than the big seller, Wish Dolls. I stayed up late last night (Friday) making a second batch, and I'm glad I did because they all went.

My stall, Roya's spot and Sacred Waters Soaps (sorry about the blurry)

The organizers are to be commended for keeping their promises. The vendors actually were all wonderful artisans and higher end local crafters. There were no mass market imports or factory made items amongst the sellers, and a quite a few fine artists selling prints and originals. I count myself in that group of fine artists. They gave us tickets for drinks both days, and lunch on Saturday.

The organizers promised a mix of products, limiting the number of each type of offering. While it is true that there were plenty of jewelry makers from which to make a selection, they were all of different styles, and the fair didn't feel like every other booth was beaded jewelry, as some do.

The organizers promised huge crowds, and they delivered on that too. They stopped counting on Friday evening when it got very busy, but they estimated a good 2000 people spilled over from the "First Friday" art walk and came in to sip wine, enjoy the carolers, and peruse the art.

Saturday had fewer people, but more actual shoppers. The people that said they would be back to me, came back and made their purchases, which was delightful. The store next to me, selling sooooo soft faux fur and pretty printed fabric infinity scarves did a great business both days. I think their success can be attributed to having the right product, an easy- to-wear accessory, with a consistent on-trend aesthetic, and the right price point for the crowd. Their booth was never quiet. They were making money through the lower cost/high volume method, which works at craft fairs. (Why can't I find her card, darn it!)

More sellers!

I wish I could report that Uptown Village Market was as successful for me, but I can't. And I have no-one to blame but myself. I misjudged the demographic and the affluence of the shoppers. I expected a more mature, art buying crowd. Accordingly I brought my high end stuff. What I didn't expect to see, especially on the late Friday evening, was the number of families with young children. Poor research on my part!

I bet if had made 100 Either Way Dolls, my kid's item, instead of focusing on Dream Star Dolls, I could have sold them all, even at $8 each/2 for $15 price point. This is the first time I have been at a craft fair and not sold at least one or two Dream Star Dolls. My sales stats did not hold, with many fewer sales per visitor than in the past.

On the other hand, the emotional response to my dolls, the admiration accorded them, especially the Bead Head dolls, was gratifying to say the least. People loved hearing "Journey's story". They read the blurb about "Miss Tick". They spent time looking at all the dolls, picking them up and being very curious. But they weren't the right group to buy them as fine figurative soft sculptures.

In the end, after booth fees, and adding up the gas (not much really) my profit on the event is barely more than $100. If I intend to do craft fairs, I have to make more money than pennies, which means making Either Way Dolls en mass which kids do love, and Wish Dolls, which people do enjoy very much because they are a cute concept. But they aren't anywhere near as much fun for me as the Art Dolls which are one of my outlets for self expression. Plus they still would come out to less than minimum wage per hour per doll.

The time away from my family and other concerns, the stress, the hauling, the initial outlay for booth fees - it's no longer worth it to me to sell my art that way. So I will not be doing any more craft fairs for the foreseeable future. My dolls will continue to be available through the Gallery 9, as long as they wish to host them, and Etsy. To unschoolers, who love my dolls, yes I will continue to make Either Way Dolls for Etsy and conferences.

However my desire, my yearning, the images I am seeing in my head for art dolls that are calling me to make them - these are for major, larger scale works. I have dreams of making a 6 foot tall cloth Dream Doll built over a forged iron armature. I still have plans for a whole series of plarn crochet figures, with a message. These are large scale works, suitable for public exhibition and public spaces - the foyers of buildings, corporate offices, permanent collections.

I am going to devote my professional time to my educational publishing project, so that I will have the wherewithal, the space and the opportunity to take my art out of the craft fair level, and into the public art sphere.

For anyone considering joining an Uptown Village Market event in Bixby Knolls in the future - and they are planning a summer sale - they are an upstanding group. Buy the electricity and bring extra lighting for your booth. The spaces are just that - not all have walls. Bring a range of products that are visual and unusual, including a couple of eye catchers, but have the bulk of your price points $25 and under. Have stuff that appeals to young women and kids, with "stocking stuffers" that are cute and appealing.


Magpie's Mumblings said...

Well written post! It's unfortunate that you've had to make this decision, but I can certainly understand the reasons behind it. The lack of sales could also be attributed to the economic times - people could simply be looking for things at lower price points. When I used to do craft fairs here I found that whatever I had made was always 'in the wrong colour, the wrong size, or (and this was the big deciding factor for me) they could make 'it' cheaper. Of course they could, but that didn't help me make any money. The final straw was when they started taking pictures so they could remember how it was made.

Robyn L. Coburn said...

MA, thanks so much for reading and commenting. How frustrating to have copiers! It's not flattery in this case, but disrespectful of your art process.

I have had people suggesting that my prices were too high at lower end community style craft fairs, where the other vendors were offering those "hand made in a third world factory" items. I've had some people display a kind of disparaging attitude to some of the dolls, as if they should be cheaper, or say they don't understand why anyone would want such a thing. "What are they for?"

Oh well - those folks just aren't MY customers.

However at this show, no-one was complaining about the prices or suggesting the dolls weren't worth the money (quite the contrary); they just weren't buying them. I felt like they were educated, discerning consumers familiar with hand made artisan work and art, but not as wealthy as I expected.

I got the strong feeling that many people were so sorry they couldn't afford to buy them, and were too respectful of the work to offer a low ball amount. So it was one of those events that was a critical success, but not a financial blockbuster. Different. Odd.

Joy Crazy said...

I was one of the "gushers" who couldn't afford to buy, lol! I love the things I got, though! I have some great pictures of your booth and items, too. I could never make the things I shot pics of, lol. I just liked to have pics of such pretty things. I totally agree the exhibitors were pretty incredible... the variety, and the beauty of the items for sale were quite unique and appealing.

Robyn L. Coburn said...

Thanks for posting, Joy Crazy. Watch this space for more pretty things as time goes on.

Robyn L. Coburn said...

Found the website of the seller with the scarves who was doing so well - James had bought a couple of her scarves and her card turned up.